Duke Ellington's genius was of such an enormous magnitude and his contributions to American culture so great that it's easy for certain portions of his catalog to be somewhat overlooked. That's certainly the case with Money Jungle, his extraordinary 1962 trio record with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach. The casual jazz fan sees Ellington as a composer and bandleader, never quite realizing what a fiercely creative pianist he was. Certainly he was a sensitive accompanist, and he often played quite lyrically, but only aficionados realize the intensity and experimentalism of his playing. Anyone doubtful of the "experimentalism" classification will be set straight by Money Jungle, where his playing is every bit as forward-thinking as any musicians of the '60s -- including Coltrane, Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, and Andrew Hill. Nowhere is that more true than on the title track, a fast, furious Duke composition that only seems to have sprung from a blues improvisation. In reality, it's multi-layered and complex, with plenty of latitude for all three musicians to simply burn. It certainly sounds as if Ellington wrote it with Mingus and Roach in mind and the rhythm section tears into the piece. Far from being intimidated by the master, Mingus and Roach seem like they're trying to goose Ellington into a game of one-upmanship, pushing him as hard as they can. He pushes back. In fact, it sounds like all three are soloing at once -- with one crucial difference. These solos are empathetic, fitting into the spaces that the other musicians leave, all while riding on the same groove. It's truly astonishing, and full testament to Ellington's powers as a leader, composer, and pianist. Pure brilliance.